On January 4, 1962, the Board of Directors of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El established the Kol Ami Collection. It was the dream of Maurice and Badona Spertus who donated many works that form the core of the collection. On March 8, 2002, the museum was dedicated by Ellen and Arnold Rissman as the Arnold Rissman Family Kol Ami Museum, in honor of their children, Lauren, Aron and Jacob, “with hope for the future.”
Today, the Rissman Kol Ami Collection includes the many art works and ritual objects displayed throughout the building and used by the congregation. Its mission is “to accept, collect and preserve objects of Jewish ceremonial art, articles of folklore, manuscripts and documents of historical value, in order to illustrate the biography and demography of the Jewish people from a spiritual and artistic point of view, reflecting the religious and cultural mode of life in the past and present.”
The diverse collection encompasses works from the 18th century to modern times that come from many countries around the world. The collection consists of paintings, sculptures, prints, rare books and Judaic ritual objects such as menorahs, spice boxes, crowns, rimonim (Torah finials), pointers, breast plates and a unique tik (Torah case).
The gallery area features objects from the collection as well as visiting exhibits throughout the year.
Visit the Rissman Kol Ami Collection exhibit space and see some of its treasures.
Artists Beit Midrash Virtual Exhibit
On December 6, 2020, the participants in the 2020 Artists Beit Midrash class showcased virtually their visual and literary art on the theme, On the Edge: Jewish ideas about Margins, Marginality, and Marginalization. The following artists participated: Lois Barr, Nessia Frank, Suzanne Horwitz, Judith Joseph, Andrea Kamen, Charlotte Kaplan, Judith Kaufman, Ruti Modlin, Judy Solomon, Sandy Starkman, Sandy Wasserman and Chana Zelig.
About the Artists Beit Midrash
The 2020 Artists Beit Midrash commenced in a period of confinement and isolation, due to the pandemic. We came together as a community, yet we were unable to gather together physically. It seemed the perfect time to consider the Jewish experience of being insiders/outsiders in society; to think about how our traditional rituals of clean/unclean, such as kashrut, create a fence around our beliefs and separate us as a community.
In this year of deep national divisions and rising anti-Semitism, we examined how we are perceived by others. We explored the dangers of the “us/them” paradigm, and how our faith directs us to treat “the other.” From a Jewish perspective, we considered the plight of refugees and displacement in our world, with echoes of our own wandering.
We talked about the isolating effects of a plague, and historical conspiracy theories, which accused the Jews of poisoning wells and causing pestilence during the Black Plague of the 14th century.
From a safe, cyber-distance, we offer art and writings about the edge, and the spaces on either side of it. ~ Judith Joseph, Exhibition Curator and ABM co-facilitator
In spite of the limitations imposed by COVID-19, we were able to travel together with our imaginations to many places: to the Mishkan in the desert where Moses performed all sorts of rituals to enable people who had been quarantined outside of the camp to re-enter and draw near again. Then, to Naomi and Ruth — one woman who left her home to cross the border to a land that was not her own and then returned to her home, the other woman who was an outsider until acts of kindness brought her into the heart of the community. We read poetry by Yehuda ha Levi, Dan Pagis, Yehuda Amichai, Avraham Ibn Ezra, Rachel, and Chaim Bialik, all of whom moving between identity personal and communal, in many eras and many times. Often outsider’s status has been a stimulus for great creativity.
Participants were inspired by the Biblical image of the well, an above-the-ground seam to life giving waters below and how this metaphor fits so well with the drawing out of inspiration so necessary for creating art. ~ Jane Shapiro, ABM co-facilitator
Beth El’s Czech Sefer Torah Scroll No. 44 is now beautifully displayed in a new case in the Choos Alcove. This Torah was once cherished by the Jews of Prostejov (“Prossnitz” in German), located in the Czech Republic. The Prostejov synagogue and yeshiva sustained a vital Jewish community until the Nazis invaded in March 1939. In July the synagogue was forced closed. This scroll, hand-written in the 1800s, was confiscated by the Nazis and warehoused with 1,563 Sifrei Torah from other devastated Jewish communities in a ruined synagogue in Michle, outside Prague. In 1964 the scroll was rescued from oblivion and traveled to the Westminster Synagogue in London as part of the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust. It was brought from London to North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in 1980 by congregants Judith and Roger Leff.
To Bear Silent Witness to our Past. To Honor the Memory of the Prostejov Community. To Remember the Shoah. The Torah is rolled to Deuteronomy 25:17-19:
Remember what Amalek did to you . . . do not forget. These cautionary words from Parsha Ki-Teze in Devarim recall the biblical nation of Amalek, which attacked the Israelites in the desert. We read these verses on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim, in connection with the megillah story of the oppressor Haman. The Nazis were also regarded as evil Amalekites. Abraham Lewin, a member of the clandestine Oneg Shabbat, a group that chronicled life in the Warsaw ghetto, wrote in his diary on June 6, 1942: We want our sufferings to be described for future generations. We meet every Shabbas to tell each other what the old-new Amalekites are doing to us, the Jews. These stories always weigh on me and my head starts to ache.